Hi! Sorry for taking so incredibly long to get back to you on
this! My social anxiety is a butt, and I apologize for that.
I think an important angle to take
here is that your antagonist doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad
individual–heck, your antagonist doesn’t even have to be a person!
Time and nature are always good
choices for antagonists, but that’s obviously not what you’re asking.
Just think out of the box for a
minute: try to remember all of your favorite villains and any bad guys you love
An antagonist can also just be
someone who has different goals from your protagonist. For example, in some
movies about high school, a teacher or principal is the antagonist, but they’re
literally just trying to do their jobs. They aren’t necessarily bad
people–they just want their students to stay in school. (This isn’t true for
all movies with teachers as bad guys, but you get the point.)
I think the most important part of
designing your antagonist is that they have to think that they are doing the
right thing. They have to firmly believe in what they’re doing, for whatever
reason. Sure, they can change later on in the story if that’s what you want to
do, but they need to start off with some kind of conviction.
A good villainous antagonist is
Yzma, from The Emperor’s New Groove. She is a full, distinct
character. It’s impossible to mistake her for anyone else! Yzma is catty,
intelligent, ambitious, and violent, to name a few traits. Notice
that “violent” is the only traditional villain trait I
listed. “Catty” is generally an antagonistic trait, but it’s easy enough
to have a protagonist that could be described that way, like in shows/books
Girl and Pretty
Little Liars. Here are some other unlikable protagonists: http://www.bustle.com/articles/53801-10-unlikeable-female-protagonists-because-being-sugar-and-spice-isnt-everything
A less villainous antagonist is Prince Zuko, from Avatar: the Last Airbender, though he may seem like one at first. He’s a good antagonist
because he works very much to the opposite of the wills of the protagonists. He
wants to capture the Avatar–not for power but to reclaim his honor. He doesn’t
really care about what happens to the Avatar; he just wants to prove himself to
his father after he dared to disagree with him. Zuko is reckless, single-minded,
passionate, and bitter, but despite all of these seemingly villainous traits,
he’s not necessarily a bad person. He will hurt and kill to get what he wants,
but as he progresses as a character, he stops relying on his anger (which
forces him to relearn firebending) and realizes how selfish and childish he had
been. He looks inside himself and realizes that capturing the Avatar wouldn’t
bring his honor back or make his father love him. His choices as a person make
more of a difference than some scheme he came up with. In spite of his
characteristic antagonistic nature, he finds it within himself to love and to
make his own decisions for himself.
What I’m getting at here is that there’s no one good set of
traits you can give your antagonist. They simply need to work against the
protagonist(s). I did find a helpful list that can get you started, though: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/07/10-traits-of-strong-antagonist.html
Note that those aren’t personality traits—they’re actions and
A good villain is multi-faceted. They’re not just a one-note “bwahahahaha”
person; they have thoughts and feelings and motivations. Once you start
thinking of them like a person and not just something for your main
character(s) to fight against, it’s a lot easier—and more fun—to create a
complex, interesting antagonist.
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